Social Media: feel the fear but do it anyway

Does using social media for your business bring you out in a sweat? Concerned you (or your employees) will say the wrong thing? Too busy to divert attention to the internet all day?

Social media terrorIt’s ok, you’re not alone. In my time both employed and freelance I have come across many people who have these fears and more. In fact I was recently asked to speak on the subject at an event for the motor industry; the request was to talk about why businesses should be embracing it. The points I made are just as valid for any industry, though, so I thought I’d share them with you in the hope of allaying some of your fears and instilling some confidence to press on with it.

Let’s try and reason some of those concerns out to start…

“I don’t have the staff/time”

I’m not going to lie, it does take time. But there are numerous web-based platforms that are free or cheap ($59/month for Sprout Social’s professional service) and can help you monitor what people are saying a) in your area, b) about your chosen keywords and c) about you that you will find it easier than you thought to keep on top of it.

With platforms like HootSuite or Sprout Social you can also schedule tweets, posts and the like too so you don’t have to be doing it ‘live’ daily. Just allocate some time every week to setting up your tweets and the platforms do the rest.

You can also get mobile versions of these platforms so you can get notifications while you’re on the move or over the weekend. That way you can quickly respond and show a) you’re listening and b) you’re a real person.

“I don’t know how to go about it”

There is plenty of help out there, this blog is a good place to start! I help people every week with their social activity, training them and handling it for them. There are also lots of good books, webinars and local events about this hot topic.

Five years ago, I didn’t know much about how to use social media for good business effect (I was a dab hand it using for myself) but I found that it is mostly common sense.

“There are so many platforms, I can’t manage them all!”

You don’t have to be on all platforms all the time. I advise clients to research where their customers are (survey them, ask them in the shop) and focus on those platforms. And set one up at a time. Get used to it and, only when you feel you have the capacity to add another, add it.

For example, if you are B2B (business to business) then I wouldn’t focus on Facebook; instead look more at LinkedIn. If you’re in retail, however, Facebook is probably a good bet. Very visual products work well on Instagram or Pinterest.

“I’ll say the wrong thing”

It just proves you’re human if you do! The main thing is, if you make a mistake or say something inappropriate, apologise, admit your mistake and correct it as soon as possible. Use this rule…would I say it out loud or in person? If not, then don’t say it on social media.

And don’t remove bad testimonials or reviews just because they’re bad. Respond to them and try to resolve the issue so you can show other customers how you deal with problems.

Reasons why you should be embracing social media

  • The UK is the most social country in the world – 52% of us use social and 36% of us interact with brands socially
  • At last count Facebook had 31 million users and Twitter had 15 million – that’s a big marketplace
  • Your customers are using social, so you should be
  • Just because you’re not using it, it doesn’t mean no one’s talking about you
  • Think of all the lost sales opportunities

Top tips for going social

  • Assign resource – men, money and minutes
  • Define your objectives for going social (and don’t just think in terms of making money)
  • Find your customers – research where they hang out
  • Identify what you can talk about – what different topics/subjects relate to your business
  • Set up a management platform
  • Measure your social success – develop some KPIs (key performance indicators) based on your objectives
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Stay on the right side of social media law

I can hear you now…what laws? To be clear, there are no new laws covering social media so marketers must look to the existing CPRs, CAP Codes and OFT Guidance to understand what is allowed and what’s not. But you may not be a professional marketer; you may well be going ‘CPRs, CAP Codes, OFT Guidance…wtf?’. Don’t worry, that’s why I’m here. Key things to remember with social media:

  • Do NOT falsely pose as a consumer (that goes for all employees)
  • Be transparent about who you are and what you’re doing

To use an example, Snickers got it right with a campaign last year that had various celebrities, including Katie Price, tweeting about out of the ordinary topics (economics & politics in the case of our Katie). Katie Price Snickers tweets These teaser tweets were sent out in quick succession and then shortly followed up with a reveal tweet about how you’re not yourself when you’re hungry with the hashtag #spon to show it was sponsored. Yes there were complaints but the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) upheld the campaign on the basis that the teaser tweets did not mention the brand; the reveal tweet included the #spon hashtag to show that it was paid for advertising; and the reveal tweet was also sent very shortly after the teaser tweets to remove any confusion. Nike, however, got it wrong and won the accolade of first banned Twitter campaign. Wayne Rooney now famously tweeted: Wayne Rooney tweet But it was not deemed to be adhering to the law as it didn’t clearly declare itself as a marketing tweet with either #spon, #paid or #ad to show it was advertising. Anyone for User Generated Content? User generated content (UGC) is simply consumer reviews, testimonials, videos, photos etc. added to a website by the consumer and they then get shown to other people interested in buying that product, visiting that place or ‘pinning’ that picture. As a marketer you may want to add testimonials, press quotes and the like to your site but where do you then stand on copyright and accuracy? The issue comes if the content is ‘adopted and incorporated’ into your site, i.e. if you pick n choose which reviews get shown and which don’t. You might also be thinking about pulling content from other sites onto yours but there is one key rule here. Do not cut and paste UGC. Ever. That’s like trying to pass it off as your own. Credit people, don’t edit the content and don’t overlay with your own brand details. If you are thinking of setting up an area on your site for people to post reviews, which you will then use you should create some simple terms & conditions which say something along the lines of ‘by posting on this site you are giving consent for us to use it. Content you post must be your own’. Also define how you will moderate UGC and flag/remove inappropriate content. Check out the BBC’s terms. Other simple things to bear in mind is that law regarding social media is the same as law regarding marketing in general. Don’t lie, have the evidence to back up statements (‘the best’), don’t say anything defamatory about a competitor and don’t pass off someone else’s content as your own. Social doesn’t need to be scary as long as you act lawfully and respectfully.

Are you a good blogger?

Blog (a truncation of the expression web log)

A discussion or informational site published on the World Wide Web and consisting of discrete entries (“posts”) typically displayed in reverse chronological order (the most recent post appears first).

Many blogs provide commentary on a particular subject; others function as more personal online diaries; others function more as online brand advertising of a particular individual or company. A typical blog combines text, images, and links to other blogs, web pages and other media related to its topic. The ability of readers to leave comments in an interactive format is an important contribution to the popularity of many blogs.

Source: Wikipedia

So how can writing a blog help your business? If you’re business to consumer (B2C) then your blog can encourage your customers to interact with you. It can also help establish you as a thought leader in your area of expertise, for example if your business is an estate agency your blog could include entries about legislative changes and what they really mean for people trying to move home; tips on how to move home smoothly; and home improvements that genuinely add value to a property.

If your are more business to business (B2B) your blog would mainly be about establishing your organisation as a thought leader so that whenever someone requires your products or services they automatically think of you as you clearly know your onions. Why do you think I write this blog? 😉

Blogs are great because they don’t cost you anything other than time. Okay, time is precious these days, but this is one form of marketing that really doesn’t cost you any money. In fact, some bloggers make money from their blogs!

Blog Image

Setting up a blog is easy:

  • Set up an account with a suitable blogging platform – WordPress is well-known and popular (I use it for this blog). You might be using WordPress for your business website or a similar platform that has a blogging function within it; if you do great. Use that. A blog hosted on your own website is good for SEO
  • Work out how often you can realistically blog – I aim to write a post for this blog every fortnight but if I don’t have anything to say I’ll wait a week until I do! There are lots of schools of thought on how frequently you should blog but I’d just try and stick to a realistic deadline and only post when you’ve got something interesting to say
  • Write a list of all the subject areas that are of interest to a) you and b) your reader – think about things from your customers’ point of view. Try and put these into a schedule in line with your decided frequency of posting and voila you have a plan!
  • Don’t worry you can write posts in advance and schedule them to be published according to your schedule so you can keep posting while on holiday or in your busy period
  • If you see some news or current affairs that is in your business area, grab the opportunity and write a quick blog about it. Don’t wait and don’t worry if it wasn’t part of your plan
  • You can link your blog platform to Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media platforms, which will help you promote the fact you’ve just added a new post – you want to let everyone know when you’ve written something new don’t you! And don’t forget to add a link from your website to your blog – you can also often add a ‘widget’ showing your latest posts on your website
  • Still on that note, make sure you let your customers know you’re now doing a blog and invite them to sign up (either in your email newsletter or with signs in your shop window or using the WordPress logo on marketing material). Promote it just like you’d promote the fact you’re on Twitter

A good blogger:

  • Blogs regularly
  • Should have a distinct voice/personality. You can tell if someone is copying something or just recycling content
  • Writes in a conversational way. “I know I’ve found a good blogger when I feel like I just had a conversation with that person from reading a post.”
  • Doesn’t sound like a salesperson. Even though you are ultimately trying to sell something take time to build the relationship and your reputation as someone who knows what they’re talking about
  • Has good content. Thought-provoking, entertaining, funny, intense, informational, inspirational, deep… whatever the style or the subject matter, good content is bound to touch and to reach out to the right audience
  • Takes the time to respond to comments (or emails, messages, etc.) It’s always good to acknowledge your readers in some way
  • Takes time to pay attention to spelling and grammar rules. The writing doesn’t have to be perfect and typo-free all the time; everyone makes mistakes. But you don’t want your message to get lost in the muddle of copy that LooK$ likE thIS alL tHe tIMe… or LIKE THIS… (don’t SHOUT at people)
  • Practices blogging best practice/etiquette. Accept mistakes and own up to them, don’t copy/paste complete blog entries and articles in to your own blogs (that’s stealing), among other things.
  • Needs a sense of humour! Don’t be afraid to show it, people to do business with people so showing you’re human is a good step to building a relationship with your customer
  • Only uses images that are copyright free. The best way to do this (without paying for stock images) is to do a Google search, click on the Images option and then go to ‘search tools’ which will bring up a sub-menu. Go to ‘usage rights’ and select ‘Labelled for reuse’. All the images you see you can use without breaking copyright law

My final word is… yes blogging does take time and concentration but it’s worth it to establish your business as a thought leader, to promote your knowledge and experience to potential customers and to start engaging them in conversation. I’m always flattered when someone compliments or comments on a post

Getting Google to love your website

Pretty much every business these days has a website, which is excellent. It’s your shop window to the world. But how are people going to find you?

You don’t just open up a shop, sit back and wait for people to walk through the door. You do everything you can to make sure customers know you’re there, what you do and how to find you. Well, search engine marketing is exactly that but just online.

Here’s a quick guide to search engine marketing and things you need to think about to get your website spotted.

Google search engine

First things first…Google is not the only search engine but it is by far the biggest so I’d suggest focusing on that to start. Yahoo and Bing are the other two to think about at a later stage.

Search engine marketing (SEM) can be split into two distinct areas:

  • Search engine optimisation (SEO) – focuses on getting your website as high as possible up the organic search results (the main listing on Google)
  • Paid search – the adverts that you see on the top and right of the Google search page (aka pay per click or PPC)

I’ll cover paid search in my next blog but for now let’s look at SEO.

SEO is considered a bit of a black art as Google doesn’t reveal details about the algorithm it uses to select who’s web page is higher than others. Google also regularly changes its algorithm so just when you think you’ve got it nailed it all changes. But don’t despair there are some good practices that Google will always like:

Google Analytics

If you haven’t yet got a Google Analytics account get one. It’s free and easy to do and will tell you exactly where people are coming to your site from. You will also be able to measure how successful your SEO and paid search (if you do it) are. I always advise people to measure what they do so they can if it works or not.

Identify your keywords

You need to be clear about what keywords are important to helping your customers find your business and also which ones are helping them find your competitors. There are three tools that can help with this:

  • Google search results page – start by typing keywords/phrases you think are important, e.g. florist, wedding flowers etc. into the URL bar and note what Google starts to auto suggest. Note what words bring up the results that match your business (this takes time but can be quite enlightening)
  • Google trends – once you have identified a number of words you can use Google Trends to see how popular your identified keywords are. It tells you how many people have searched for this word/phrase over time. This will help you hone your list a bit more.
  • Google keyword planner – you need a Google AdWords (paid search) account for this but you can set one up and don’t have to commit to spending any money to use the tool. This will tell you how much you can expect to pay in AdWords with this keyword, i.e. which words are most popular. So now you should have a good list of keywords that represent your business and reflect the terms people are likely to use to find you.

Keywords

Website Copy

You need to make sure your website copy includes all the keywords on your list BUT don’t keyword stuff them! The copy needs to make sense to visitors and not just be your keywords repeated. Google will rank you badly for this. There are a number of ways you can make sure your keywords are included in a relevant way:

  • Use headings and subheadings – Google likes that; it’s easier for their crawl bots to identify what the web page is about and it’s nicer for your customers
  • Make sure images have ‘Alt Text’ assigned to them – this is a phrase that describes the image or business if the image doesn’t load for whatever reason. Crawl bots can’t read images but they can read Alt Text, which tells them a bit more about your web page

Other things to consider are:

  • Links – a few years ago it was all the rage to get lots of links to improve your SEO. But Google now will penalise you if you just go out and get anybody and everybody to link to your site. You want to focus on getting good quality, relevant reciprocal links. And don’t ever use a ‘link farm’.
  • Your website structure – if your website is hard to navigate then how do you think customers or crawl bots are going to navigate it? Bear this in mind when adding pages and make sure the structure is logical and clear.

That’s probably made your head hurt. SEO does that. But it is worthwhile I promise. Measure your site visits before you start and then see how every change affects things.

7 Digital Tools to Help Every Business

Digital (online) marketing and social media do take time; this is the problem for many businesses but there are some excellent tools out there to make it a bit easier and also some quick wins you can do to increase your business exposure to customers.

So here’s a few digital marketer secrets!

Digital Tools

Google is your friend – sign up for a Google account and you can set up the following:

1. Google Analytics
www.google.com/analytics

If you have a website you should be monitoring it; you can learn a lot about what marketing is working and who your customers are. All open source website platforms have some analytics offering but Google is king. Set it up right and you can monitor what channels are generating your web visits (social media, email, online adverts etc.)

You can also see what pages people are looking at, how long they stay, whether they’re on mobile, tablet or desktop. And all this can inform the rest of your marketing/digital strategy.

2. Google My Business
www.google.co.uk/business

What was called Google Places has been rebranded as Google My Business. You know when you search for something on Google and businesses in the area are shown on a map in your search results? That’s Google My Business. Sign up (it’s free) and you have an instant online sign post!

3. Google AdWords
www.google.com/adwords

There are two elements to search engine (Google, Yahoo, Bing etc.) marketing – search engine optimisation (getting your site on page one of the main area of search results), and paid search (the adverts that appear at the top and on the right in Google).

Google AdWords is Google’s paid search facility (Yahoo and Bing both have their own also). You can spend as little or as much as you want – that’s the beauty for small businesses. You set the budget! You may also hear this called Pay Per Click (PPC) – it’s the same thing.

The other good thing is that you can connect your AdWords to your Analytics account and see what keywords are most effective at driving customers to your site.

4. Google URL Builder
https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/1033867

If you do any online advertising (AdWords aside) you should be making sure the URL that accompanies the adverts can be tracked by Google Analytics – that way you can see how successful the advert is at driving traffic to your website and whether you should continue doing it, do less or do more.

This cool tool creates the unique URL for you.
Non-Google offerings include:

5. Hootsuite
www.hootsuite.com

Struggling to manage your various social media accounts? Hootsuite is one of a number of social media management platforms that can help.

You can create dashboards for each platform (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, WordPress etc.) and set up ‘streams’ for all the things you want to see for each of those platforms. For example new followers, mentions, comments, replies, mentions of keywords.

You can also schedule tweets so you don’t have to always be at the computer or on your mobile when you want to send the tweet. Cool huh.

6. Klout
www.klout.com

If you ‘do’ social media you want to understand if all the effort is worth it. But how do you measure it? One way is with Klout, which measure your social media influence. You can link various platforms to it and track how your score goes up when people interact with you. It also goes down when you go on holiday without scheduling tweets!

7. Qwitter
www.useqwitter.com

Why would you want to know who’d unfollowed you on Twitter? Because it can give you an insight into who is finding you interesting (or not) and help you tailor what you say. If you post something and a load of people instantly unfollow, you know you’ve said something wrong!

It can also reveal people who have only followed you to get you to follow them (which is Twitter etiquette). If you keep an eye on this you can unfollow them if they are not appropriate to your business.

Are you looking after your customers’ data?

Many small businesses think that data protection is really only something they need to worry about when they get larger. I’m afraid it isn’t.

If you have a database of customer details, past, prospects or existing, then you need to be aware of your legal requirements around data protection. And when I say ‘database’ that includes a simple Excel spreadsheet.

Protect your customers' data

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is the authority that upholds data protection law and enforces the Data Protection Act 1998. Their website is great for providing all the information on what you need to consider when storing customer data but to give you a basic summary of some of the key points:

  • The Act relates to personal data, which means data that makes an individual identifiable. For example their name and address or email together. It does NOT include business data
  • All points cover both paper and electronic forms of data
  • You should only collect and keep data that is useful to you – don’t collect or keep excessive data ‘just because you can’
  • You should keep the data up to date – it’s generally accepted these days that an email address has a lifespan of six months. If you haven’t contacted them at an email address for that long you need to clarify it and either bin it or update it
  • Don’t keep data for longer than is necessary – different types of data have different lifespans
  • Take reasonable measures to protect your data – think about where it’s stored and how it’s protected and make sure you have processes in place to ensure the safe keeping of it all, i.e. not taking it out of the office on a laptop, locking the filing cabinet where paper records are kept
  • Customers have the right to ask to see a copy of all the data you have stored about them – this is called an access request which you have to comply with within 40 calendar days
  • If someone wants to be removed from your database (i.e. they unsubscribe) you should not remove but suppress them – put them in a separate file that is checked against every time you do a mailing or communication to make sure they are not included again
  • If you have data it’s 99.9% probable that you need to register your business with the ICO and appoint a Data Controller. If you’re not sure if you need to register take their self-assessment test>>
  • If you collect data (which we all do whether we know it or not) then you need to have a data protection policy for your business/staff and a privacy policy for your customers. The privacy policy should be on your website and easily accessible for customers so they have reassurance that you are an ethical organisation to do business with

Data protection isn’t as scary as it sounds. If you think about things from the customer’s perspective you’ll be along the right lines.

Do an audit to identify:

  • What data you keep
  • Where it is stored
  • How securely it is stored
  • How long it is kept for
  • What it is used
  • How you manage unsubscribe requests

That’ll highlight any areas you need to address and then you can write a data protection policy and then a simple privacy policy. I can help with these areas – if you have a question let me know. The ICO also produces a good guide>>

As a customer you want your data looked after and respected don’t you? Well, you’re customers (and the ICO) want the same.

Twitter: your business friend or foe?

Super Twitter!

Twitter, and social media in general, gets many small/medium-sized business owners in a spin. In fact, it gets business owners of all sizes in a spin so you’re not alone if you feel you should be ‘doing’ it but are unsure how to go about it and wary of the negative connotations of social media.

You’re right to feel cautious about embarking on using social for business but with some simple advice and guidance it can be very rewarding, improving your relationship with your customers as well as increasing revenue in the long term.

Here’s some tips I’ve learnt over the years to help make your Twitter experience a pleasant and fun one…

 Complete your profile – set up a relevant handle (@name) and make sure you fully complete your profile with suitable imagery, bio and website URL. This will all help your customers find you easily and new customers to know who you are quickly and simply

Remember it’s about sharing good information – us marketers call it ‘content’ but it’s simply news and information. Don’t just sell, sell, sell. Retweet other people’s tweets that you think your followers will find interesting. Favourite tweets that you find interesting but you don’t necessarily think your followers will want to know.

People love links and images – you only have 140 characters so you can’t get all the content into one tweet. Instead, put it on your website then post a tweet teasing people to click the link to read more. We all love a picture or video too so including those where relevant is great. Did you know links improve the retweet chances by 86% and images by 200%

Show that you’re noticing – thank people when they follow you (either in a direct message or openly) and ‘favourite’ posts that you’re mentioned in. It shows you’re listening and appreciative of people’s comments. If the comment is negative address it in a human way – don’t be rude, be efficient and helpful. If necessary ask them to ‘direct message (DM)’ you with their contact details so you can discuss if more depth.

Use hashtags but don’t overdo it hashtags are part of the core of Twitter. There’s much discussion about whether they are passé but whatever you (or Twitter) think, they are here to stay. Use them intelligently, referencing a location, event or using an existing popular tag (if you’re talking about the world cup for instance). I’d say no more than two tags on a tweet

There are different kinds of tweet – there are information sharing ones, sales ones, follower growth ones. Use a good mix of all these tweets to keep your followers engaged (interested).

Writing a ‘direct response’ tweet – this is when you want to get someone to do something, whether it’s click a link or buy something. Don’t use a hashtag or mention someone (use a handle) – it takes up valuable space and distracts the reader from what you want them to do. Ask a question, provide the solution and then hit them with the ‘call to action’ (what you actually want them to do – buy now, click now etc.) and end with the link. Create a sense of urgency

Writing a ‘follow me’ tweet – similar to direct response tweets – don’t use hashtags or @handles but also don’t include a link these. You don’t need to ask a question but include the word ‘follow’ so people know what you’re asking them to do and give them a reason why they should ‘follow us for great recipes every day’

There’s much more but if you try and adopt some of these practices to start I’m sure you’ll find your followers grow, you’ll be mentioned and retweeted more and Twitter will definitely become your friend.

Finally, I would like to promote a fantastic new campaign by the Chartered Institute of Marketing called #keepsocialhonest. 1 in 5 consumers have seen brands behaving unethically on social media. Don’t be one of them – check out the ten commandments at www.keepsocialhonest.com